Once Again: Employers Want Employees Educated in the Liberal Arts

Add the vast majority of the 300+ employers surveyed by the Association of American Colleges & Universities to those eager to hire graduates of liberal arts colleges. A sampling of the findings: (here’s the full survey report)

• 93% agree (59% strongly) that a candidate’s “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, & solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major”

• Only 16% said that it was most important to employee advancement and success to possess “knowledge and skills that apply to a specific field or position” — most stressed either a “range of skills and knowledge” (29%) or a combination of “field-specific skills” and wide-ranging knowledge (55%)

• What types of knowledge and skills are most valued?

  • Demonstrating “ethical judgment and integrity” (96% said it was important, 76% said “very important”)
  • Being “comfortable working with colleagues, customers, and/or clients from diverse cultural backgrounds” (96%, 63% very important) — one more reason to consider taking courses like our new one on the Modern Middle East…
  • Demonstrating “capacity for professional development and continued new learning” (94%, 61% very important) — as 1999 grad Tony Barthel (now a corporate attorney) put it in an interview with us, studying history “develops good thinkers, good readers, people that are good relationally with other people… you’re learning how to learn
  • Knowledge of “global cultures, histories, values, religions, and social systems” (55%, 16% very important)

• Significant majorities (78-80%) wanted colleges and universities to do more to cultivate skills that we’ve identified as crucial to our objectives as a department: critical thinking, writing and other kinds of communication, and research.

So History majors should feel confident casting their net widely when they look for jobs and prepare for careers. Employers are looking for a wide range of skills and knowledge — not specific majors — and their list of most-desired skills matches well with what our program is meant to cultivate. As Brandon Raatikka (’03), vice president at FactRight, told us in his recent From AC 2nd to… interview:

…the biggest things I took away from my education at Bethel were how to think more critically about situations where the right ”answer” isn’t always apparent, and how to write well (as you get a lot of practice writing in history classes). Apart from certain financial and accounting aspects of it, business is largely a “soft” science. Training in history and other humanities gets one comfortable dealing with ambiguities. It helps you assess the significance of facts and order their importance relative to other facts. Being able to focus on the big picture, while still knowing how the small details relate to that big picture, is a huge advantage in business, and something that studies in history can train one to do. Also, history courses are an important element of a well-rounded, liberal arts education — and especially in the context of a small business, where one inevitably wears many hats, a “generalist” mindset is valuable.

Later today we’ll have a follow-up post reporting on a recent survey of our own, in which recent graduates evaluated their own skillfulness in the areas highlighted by both Brandon and the employers surveyed by the AACU.


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